Bees Rule The Manor In FA Cup Of Dreams
1974. Turkey had invaded Cyprus. Nixon had resigned with Watergate in full swing. The retreat from Saigon and a cod war with Iceland was just around the corner. More importantly, though, Basildon United played Heybridge Swifts in a cup tie. The first game I'd ever had to pay money to see.
Well, my father, more accurately, but as a seven year old, I was in awe. The vast expanse of green, fencing around the Gardiners Close pitch, sheltered terracing, and those vivid amber and blacked striped shirts. It may have been a forgotten down-at-heel ground, near an industrial area, in a non-descript town, but as far as I was concerned I'd reached Nirvana.
Basildon United won that day. A old codger next to us intoned at the time mournfully "90 seconds left", anticipating a replay defeat. As we stood, directly behind the goal, we looked up and saw a rocket shot from the edge of the area hit the roof of the net. Heybridge Swifts were on their knees. All that time holding on, holding on, then bang, cup dreams over in a flash of brilliance. From then on, Basildon United were a part of me
It's what the Cup is all about, dreams, goals, agony, ecstasy, a season encapsulated in 90 minutes, from the humble ramshackle village ground right up to Cup Final day at Wembley. Running, like everything else, from August to May, the FA Cup really is the people's title.
It's something Southend Manor can attest to. Just two years ago, they stormed through five rounds of the FA Cup, hammering a number of higher ranked teams along the way. They even made it onto the Sky Sports News fixture list ticker. They went out in a blaze of glory, just round before the Football League sides entered the fray, in an unforgettable day out at then Conference outfit Kettering Town.
And so it came to be that Southchurch Park, just a couple of long goal kicks from the beach, that the road to Wembley made it's way to the Essex Riviera. Even with a crowd below 100, between two teams who have less chance of winning the FA Cup than Dan Quayle has of winning a spelling bee, it still felt magical under the glow of a Southend-on-Sea dusk.
It was especially noticeable walking into the ground. Across the way. on a day Australia took charge of the final Ashes test, was the cricket pitch where Don Bradman's 1948 'Invincibles' scored over 700 runs in a day. A phyrric victory for Essex though. They bowled Australia out, the only team to do so that unforgettable post-war summer.
Summer 2013 was looking equally enticing, though, in a place steeped with history and two teams full of players having had to put a shift in a work before playing, in the same competition as the Premier League elite. For one more night, Southchurch Park Arena had turned into the Field Of Dreams.
The field itself, though, was bumpy and dusty, looking just as hard as the paving leading from the stand to the clubhouse. Credit to both teams, though, as they tried to keep things on the ground for as much as possible. This made, however, for a number of unforced errors from both sides.
The first real chance fell to the hosts just on the quarter of an hour mark - and if Kye Jude tried to whack the ball over the bar from well inside the six yard box, he'd fail the other 999 times. This night, however, was the one time in a thousand he somehow succeeded.
Gbaualena Waiwaiku also hit over from a decent position 15minutes later. Just as you felt Basildon were riding their luck, and might just sneak through, Manor opened the scoring with a stroke of luck themselves. Mark Sisson raced through on goal, his shot from around 12 yards was superbly parried by Bees keeper Steve Brown - only to rebound of Sisson and into the back of the net.
If it seems as if Southend Manor were dominating, that was far from the case. Up until then, it was fairly even in terms of territory and possession, just with the hosts looking more dangerous up front. Until Isaac Aubynn equalised for the visitors with a strike already in contention for Goal of the Season.
With his back to the Manor net 30 yards out, wide on the left, and a defender on his back, he superbly bicycle kicked it over his opponent, turned, raced into the area, and from 15 yards blazed in a shot that Lawrence Priddle had no chance whatsoever of stopping as it hammered into the roof of the net. Pure brilliance and worth the admission price of just £6 alone.
From then on, whatever Southend Manor threw at them, you just had that feeling in your bones that this was a night written in the stars for Basildon United, now twinkling in the night sky. After Danso had spurned another chance for the home side soon after the resumption, the Bees took the lead just after the hour.
Greg Akpele had got onto the end of a rare long ball, beat the offside line, and almost passed the ball into the net, despite the despairing rush out of goal and dive by Priddle. A big roar then went from the side of the pitch, with around half the crowd visiting Bees supporters. Myself included, even though three happy years were spent on the PA at the Arena.
From thereon in, there seemed to be an air of inevitability about it. Southend Manor tried, with James Braithwaite hitting a shot straight at Steve Brown, after a clever Danso jink, when a shot into either corner would almost certainly have been an equaliser. The luckless Kye Jude also shot over again right on 90 minutes.
It was always Basildon who seemed more likely to score though. Akpele again almost got into the act in the last five minutes, a mazy little run into the box ending in a shot that was goalbound until a deflection put it just wide of the right hand post. They knew, though - and Southend Manor knew, deep down - that Basildon United had done enough.
As the full time whistle blew, the faces and reactions on either side and set of supporters was as evident and obvious as Man City and Wigan had shown at Wembley just three short months ago. For the visitors, big cheers and deep joy. For the vanquished hosts, they just sat there, deflated and silent. For them, Southend Manor's 2011 FA Cup run will have to be reminisced that much longer.
Basildon United, though, march on, £1,500 richer for their troubles, too. Or, more pertinently, £1,500 less hard up. "That'll pay for the floodlights this season!", beamed a clearly delighted Bees chairman, adding a touch of reality to a night of wistful dreaming.
And Basildon United's reward? A home time - against Heybridge Swifts. Sometimes, these things just write themselves .....
Southend Manor 1, Basildon United 2